“Clothes make a statement. Costumes tell a story.” ~Mason Cooley
The ghosts and ghouls, manga-attired friends and whole families of anime characters all parade down the runway to the excited gasps of the massive crowd assembled for the All Hallows Eve festivities. From Transformers to dead Goth/Emo weddings, the spectators all gawked at the getup gamut on display. Edward Scissorhands receives approving applause from the audience, a good sign that he would be a finalist. And so went the pageantry for the next two hours.
We are often asked if the Japanese and the Okinawans celebrate many of the holidays that we in the United States accept as the underpinnings of life. Halloween is one of the more interesting days where the East can mask themselves in costumed celebration of All Hallows Eve. And paint me paranormal, boy do they ever!
The local heavily western-influenced “American Village” and “Carnival Park” at Mihama held their annual Halloween costume contest last week, this year actually on Halloween proper. Compared to the rain and cold of last year (see COSPLAY in Japan), the weather was nearly perfect for such merriment. So good, in fact, that there were about five times as many people out this year, most of which seemed to be little witches, miniature pumpkins, or young ghouls trick-or-treating throughout the huge commercial complex. For the contest, Okinawa closes the main road in the area for pedestrian-only traffic. There a large stage is assembled, funneling down the street transformed into a long runway for costumed contestants to strut their stuff.
Halloween, or Hallowe’en (a contraction of “All Hallows’ Evening”), is of course celebrated annually on October 31st, itself also the eve of the Western Christian feast of All Hallows’ Day, a liturgical time dedicated to remembering the dead, specifically Saints (“hallows”). A timeless focus of All Hallows’ Eve is the use of humor and ridicule to confront the powerful inevitability of death. Although origins are debated, and whether your trace them to pagan, Gaelic, or Christian roots, it matters little. Such connections have long been lost in antiquity.
And besides, with the fantasy of spectacular dress and anonymity promised by masks and makeup, such connections are today unimportant in what in Japan is a wholly secular day. But the Okinawan people, and to a lesser extent the Japanese as well, are very superstitious people, well-attuned with death and the afterlife. Thus, it has been easy for both cultures to integrate Halloween with full force. Starting in the late afternoon on October 31st, one can spy car loads of Japanese kids in costume being dropped off all along our neighborhood seawall to go trick-or-treating alongside their American counterparts.
BUT, it is the vigor and energy the Japanese put into their costumes which truly amazes. There were over 250 costumed-entries for the contest this year, most entries consisting of a group of friends or even whole families. But what really surprises is the shear variety and number of people just out and about in costume, both to enjoy and participate in the revelries.
But having spent now two recent Halloween’s here in Okinawa, Jody and I have reached an interesting conclusion: while America has taken sexy to slutty extremes, the Japanese (and Okinawans) have taken sexy on an opposite trajectory to cute! Fifty shades of gray here start with White (innocence), as opposed to our Black (decadence). It’s a refreshing spin to see that Asian women here continue to walk on the more subdued side of the blurry gray line between sluttiness and seductress. While the Japanese certainly have their perverted fetishes (as we all do), they manage to continue to hang onto a level of innocence and naivety that is…well…cute. See Absolute Territory for a seductive take on Japanese sexy cuteness.
Another obvious theme that bleeds apparent in costumes here is the Japanese fascination with guns and weapons. The uber-violent past of the Japanese people notwithstanding, today it requires permission to even possess a folding knife over 6 cm of blade length (15 cm for fixed blades), and even then they cannot be carried (the penalty is up to two years in prison). Similarly, almost no one in Japan owns a gun. Most kinds are point-blank illegal, with onerous restrictions on buying (expensive and administratively hard) and maintaining (they must be stored with government officials) the few that are allowed (mostly for hunting).
Even the country’s infamous, mafia-like Yakuza organized crime “gang” tend to forgo guns, and instead resort to beatings and stabbings. With what result? In 2006 there were only TWO firearm-related homicides. In ALL of Japan. And when there were 22 total in 2007, National scandal and embarrassment ensued. For comparison, in 2008 there were almost 600 Americans killed by guns…that had been accidentally discharged…. Where is our outrage, shame and scandal?? However, with most things made taboo, there is a strong undercurrent in Japan concerning guns. And nowhere does this show more than in their costumes! And notice that their guns lack the silly orange-colored barrels and plugs that ruined our toy-guns when we were kids.
Of course the Japanese are already into cosplay (costume play), which primarily centers on hugely popular and well-known (and often mega-violent) anime and manga characters. BUT, they certainly have adopted well our Halloween traditions, where I’m happy to report that really, for a change, nothing much was lost in translation. Although there was a clear absence of sexy-cute Japanese nurses this year, and while he certainly lacks a more refined sex appeal, Edward Scissorhands easily sheared away the competition to get my vote.
See Halloween OkiStyle for another local blogger’s take on this year’s Okinawan Halloween Scene.
For more of my photos from this year’s contest, see Mihama 2014 Halloween Costume Contest on Flickr.